Beijing for Families

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Beijing for Families
Whether your family is seeking adventure, education, or just an opportunity to relax and recharge, Beijing has a wealth of kid-friendly attractions and activities.
Photo by Sara Melvin
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    Navigating the Great Wall with Children
    While the Great Wall can be a dream destination for parents and kids, the steep terrain and crowds can quickly make it a nightmare. If you're traveling with young children, consider skipping the popular segment at Badaling and the more rugged wall at Jinshanling. A better option for families is the Great Wall at Mutianyu, which tends to be less crowded and has a cable car that circumvents the approach hike. The main section of the wall here is also considerably flatter than at other locations. To make the trip extra-memorable, take the toboggan slide down the mountain.
    Photo by Sara Melvin
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    Cooking Classes and Crafts
    For both children and adults, Beijing can be a fun place to pick up new skills. Whether it's calligraphy, cooking, or just an afternoon of crafts to keep the children's travel spirits high, the city has several excellent venues for instruction. The Hutong cultural center offers a wide variety of educational courses, including Chinese traditional medicine, cooking, and artistic endeavors such as kite-making and painting Peking opera masks. The expert chefs at the Hilton Beijing Wanfujing also offer bilingual cooking classes for kids at Vasco's restaurant. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has opened a Creative Studio for children to express themselves through art workshops and a drop-in studio for hands-on creativity.
    Photo by David Lyons/age fotostock
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    Play Areas and Water Fun
    Beijing's expansive attractions and museums can quickly weary even the most travel-hardened children. If your little one needs a break from cultural exploration, there are several alternatives to the daily tourist routine. Located near the Forbidden City, Fundazzle has a two-story playground, a toddler play area, and plenty of amusements for kids up to age 14. The whole family can swim like Olympiads at the radically designed National Aquatics Center at Olympic Village, which now houses a public water park with a wave pool, river float, spa area, and 13 water slides.
    Photo by Christopher Cherry
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    Magnificent Museums
    If you're looking for indoor activities, Beijing has an impressive range of museums and exhibitions. While the National Museum of China steals the show on the basis of scale (officials claim it is the world's largest museum under one roof), there are several other family-friendly destinations that merit a visit. No site better captures the vast scale of the city than the Beijing Planning and Exhibition Hall, which boasts a giant three-dimensional model of the city. For a mix of hardware and history, try the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, which has an impressive collection of tanks, missiles, and weapons spanning ancient and modern China.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Go Fly a Kite
    Kites have a history of over 3,000 years in China, and the long tails dotting the Beijing skyline during good conditions attest to their continued popularity today. Though kites are now mostly flown for recreation, the Chinese have historically used them for sending messages, measuring distances, and managing communications on the battlefield. The best locations to test your kite-flying skills are in Tiananmen Square and in the spacious Beijing Olympic Forest Park. The Hutong offers kite-making classes at its campus in the Beixinqiao neighborhood.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Adventures with Rock
    If leisurely city walks leave your family wanting for adrenaline, Beijing's border regions offer several adventure opportunities for people who like heights. Near the town of Huairou (about an hour-and-a-half from Beijing), visitors can traverse cables along rock faces in the Italian tradition on the Yanshan Via Ferrata. Yanshan has a variety of difficulty levels appropriate for all skills, though it is most suitable for teenagers and up. Adventurous families can also contact the Beijing Climbing Club, which offers guided rock climbing trips in the Miyun area.
    Photo by Matt Durnin
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    Weather the Winter
    Though Beijing's winters can be cold and blustery, the season also reveals the charm of China's northeast. Instead of hunkering indoors, bundle up and head to Houhai for ice-skating. If you're wobbly on skates, vendors along the lake also rent ice bikes and sled-like chairs. If snow sports are your thing, Beijing has Nanshan, a small ski resort north of the city. Though Nanshan's slopes are far from world-class, its a fairly good place for novice and intermediate skiers to build their skills—provided you avoid the weekend crowds. Two larger resorts, Wanlong and Duolemeidi, can be found in Hebei Province, three hours north of Beijing.
    Photo by Matt Durnin
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    Acrobatics Shows
    Kids and parents alike will get a kick out of Beijing's traditional acrobatics shows, which feature breathtaking flips, stunts, and human pyramids. The productions are simple compared to ornate Las Vegas–style shows, but the talent is nonetheless world-class. Though it tends to cater more to Western tourists, the Chaoyang Theater puts on impressive shows and is usually the most convenient place to catch a nightly performance. For families with young children, the clown antics of the Optical Illusion: World Treasure show at the Tiandi Theater is the best bet.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Tour the City on Wheels
    If you're tired of pounding the pavement around Beijing's expansive sights then give your feet a break and see the city by pedicab. The area around the Drum and Bell Towers is usually chock-full of pedicab drivers touting their services for tours through the hutongs (old alleyways). Depending on how good business is that day, you may need to bargain hard for a fair price. That said, each driver only manages a handful of clients per day, and are thus usually generous with the time and length of the rides. If you prefer to venture beyond the hutongs, check out Beijing Sideways, which offers motorcycle-sidecar overviews of Beijing's major attractions, as well as trips to the Great Wall.
    Photo by Ashley Castle
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    Learn Some Mandarin Chinese
    Mandarin Chinese is a notoriously difficult tonal language, scripted with thousands of intricate characters, yet it can also be splendidly simple. Verbs do not require conjugation, and the written language, once understood in its components, is often formulaic. Though your family isn't likely to master Mandarin during a short jaunt through the country, devoting some time to learning basic phrases and characters will help you on your travels beyond Beijing, as well as introduce children to what is becoming one of the world's most important languages. The Sinology Institute offers a two-hour crash course that covers useful travel phrases and characters.
    Photo by Joshua Rablin/age fotostock